Jade Collecting Background

 Jon Edward’s Jade Collecting Background Information

             I first met James Watt in Detroit at the International Symposium for Jade Research, then met with him in Boston after Robert Ellsworth helped him get on at the Museum there, then in New Orleans when the director, John Bullard, invited him to come and vet my jade collection, as well as Asian art from some other collectors as he was proposing an exhibition from local collectors.  I don’t believe I saw James again after a last dinner together in the French Quarter.  He said he really liked the city and “could live here.”

Synopsis of sources and individuals with whom I’ve had contact in regard to my Chinese jade:

’70s sources, contacts and “vetters”: Manheim Galleries, McBride Gallery (New Orleans); Gump’s (San Francisco), Hugh Schmieder Collection (Atlanta): he collected in China as an engineer when building Lung Tsing U Hai railroad, 1920-21. Ching Wah Lee (San Francisco).   John Ayers (V&A, London), Jessica Rawson (British Museum, London).

80s: Doris Dohrenwend (ROM), Toronto.  James Watt (Hong Kong, then Boston, then Met in NYC), Rene’ d’Argence’ (Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco), Emma Bunker (Denver),  Angus Forsythe (Hong Kong), whose collection now resides in the Museum of East Asian Art, Bath, England.   Malcolm Barnett (Hong Kong), Susan Chen Hayworth (Hong Kong), Gerald Godfrey (Hong Kong), Bob Mowry (Asia Society, then Sachler, Harvard), Robert Sistrunk, (NYC), Robert Ellsworth (NYC), Michael  Weisbrod (NYC), Professor Tang Shi (Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing), Yang Boda (Gugong, Beijing).

These relationships and the ones to follow ranged from one time encounters to multiple contacts that led to friendships.  The latter applies to Angus Forsyth, whose jade collection along with that of Brian McElney, resides in the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, England, and Malcolm Barnett, whose jade was published as the Peony Collection by Brian Morgan, and Susan Chen (married to Merv Hayworth at that time), who visited my home in the US and with whom my wife and I met in Kyoto, Japan on a buying trip at one time.

’90s: Eugene Worrell (Charlottesville, Va), whose collecting was assisted and later published by John Ayers; and Robert Youngman (NYC), who bought the first pieces of mine via Weisbrod and then went on to build most of his collection from buying from me directly.Some years (2008?) ago he gave me an autographed copy of the beautiful book he published, The Youngman Collection, and recently I heard of his sudden demise.  Currently, his collection is being sold by Sotheby’s in two auctions, one in NYC and one in HK.  Many pieces with ‘Jon Edwards’ collection are being offered in these two auctions.

Record of Sales: ’89 – ’90: Christie’s NY, (over 90% of pieces offered were sold; two pieces (rhyton and large frog) reached or exceeded $30K and one (camel) reached over $15K.  At the time, these were extraordinary prices for jade without a well known or formerly published provenance.

’94 – Catalogue, Exhibition & Sale: A Private Collection of Early Chinese Jade Carvings, sponsored and published by Michael  Weibrod, vetted by Anthony  Carter (London) and Jixiang Peng (Director, Art Institute, Beijing).  All 45 of the pieces in this exhibition and sale came from my collection;  All were sold.  The cover piece, Jade Messenger, dated Tang – Song, sold to the Kwan Collection (as later advertised by Weisbrod in Orientations).

I also saw the camel sold at Christie’s not only made it’s way back to China, but was featured in a publication there.

’95 – ’02 The Robert Youngman Collection: over half of the pieces featured in his book, Chinese Jade, The Youngman Collection, are from my collection, but, as in the Weisbrod catalogue, the source stated is “a private collection.”  I can prove, if need be, from sales receipts and correspondence that the jade came from me.

’02 – The Birmingham Museum of  Art purchased 20 pieces from my collection for a retail price of $184,570, which I agreed to reduce by half as a tax deductible donation to their Asian Art Dept.  Their Chinese curator (can’t remember her name) at that time had assistance vetting these pieces prior to purchase by experts from the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

In regard to provenance, please,  do read the following narrative, as you will recognize many of the fascinating people whose path I’ve crossed in my long quest for knowledge and expertise, and  the context within which I met them.   I’ve been looking at jade for over 40 years now, both Pre-Columbian (collection sold at Sotheby’s Pre-Columbian Art Sales Nov. ’89, May ’90) and Chinese.

At Tulane Univ. Graduate School, I studied Pre-Columbian Art (jade) under Prof. Donald Robertson, who studied under Kubler at Yale. I believe it gave me an insight into carving and polish of early Chinese jade, as the tools and abrasives were in common, if not the stone. I began buying Chinese jade in New Orleans in the early ’70s from the Manheim Gallery and McBride’s Antiques. Abe Manheim had a jade room that was even nicer and more ceremonious (to gain admission) than Gump’s in San Francisco, from which I also bought some pieces early on.

After studying Howard Hansford’s books in depth, the next publication that interested me because it was quite current, was Doris Dohrenwend’s Chinese Jades in the Royal Ontario Museum, published in ’71. I happened to have the occasion to visit Toronto and was able to arrange a meeting with Doris to get her opinion and suggestions in regard to the pieces I had collected. A few years later James Watt would invite her to speak at the Asia House sponsored International Conference for Jade Research in Detroit and she recommended  me to also speak at the conference from the point of view of an American collector.

Chinese Jade throughout the Ages, compiled by John Ayers, with assistance from Jessica Rawson appeared in  ’75. After reading the book, I journeyed to London with some of the jade animals, which I had collected to show Jessica Rawson at the British Museum and John Ayers, who was at the Victoria & Albert. Jessica Rawson was rather dismissive, I remember, describing them as mostly archaistic, as if anything not truly archaic, pre-Han, was not all that important. John Ayers gave my pieces a better reception, describing them as right in line with the type pieces a young scholar from Hong Kong, named James Watt, had been researching.  John Ayers later assisted another American, T. Eugene Worrell, with collecting jade animals, and this eventually led to his choosing pieces from Worrell’s collection for publishing in the book, A JADE MENAGERIE, in ’93.  I later had telephone discussions with Gene Worrell and exchanged photos and opinions about our jade animals.  

During the the ’70s, I felt confident enough to go to Hong Kong to search for jade, and I had the good  fortune to literally bump into Angus Forsyth at the shop of a jade dealer. Before long, he had introduced me to a number of fellow Hong Kong collectors and their delightful habit of dining together, with everyone bringing their latest jade acquisition to be passed around and judged between courses of the dinner. In short, a great deal of my collecting was done at the same time and from the same sources as Angus Forsyth, (the Peony Collection), Bryan McElney (Jades from China, Museum of East Asian Art,  Bath, England), Malcolm Barnett, assisted by Bryan Morgan, (Chinese Jades from the Kirknorton Collection), Gerald Godfrey (Chinese Jades from the Gerald Godfrey Collection), and Susan Chan Hayworth (can’t remember her “remarried name”). Actually, Susan, after learning from esteemed collectors of the Min Chieu Society, became a very successful dealer and sold to the rest of us and only kept one back, that I know of, a remarkable Tang dog “for her son.” The big difference between them and me, obviously, is that they had their collections published and I didn’t.

As I wrote above, I finally met James Watt at his International Conference for Jade Research in Detroit in 1980, after Doris Dohrenwend recommended me to speak. She was aware that I had enlisted a brilliant young mineralogist, William Simmons, PhD, from the University of New Orleans’ Earth Science Dept. to help me do research on cultural elements of saturation in burial jades. We also repeated Hansfords experiments with physical changes in appearance of nephrite after heating to over 1,000 deg., with attention to variances in resultant colors (from “chicken bone” white to tones of brown) relative to degree of iron (darkness of green) in original specimen. Dr. Simmons was also invited to speak of this research at the conference. It was there that I first met Bob Mowry, who, at the time I believe, was associated with the Asia House, later to go to the Sachler at Harvard. My nephew was in graduate school at Harvard and knew Mowry there. They came to Christie’s together, as I’d asked for Bob’s opinion on the attributions for my jade.

In the early ’80s I became involved with the New Orleans Museum of Art, which had only one significant collection in Asian art, that being the Dr. Kurt Gidder Japanese collection. John Bullard, still the director there, I believe, was interested in my passion for jade and penchant for research, and he made me a Research Associate of the Museum. The nearest museum collection of Chinese art was at the Birmingham Museum of Art. I became friends with the Chinese American curator there at that time, John Seto, and I met the group of doctors, led by Dr. Bruce Sullivan, who were responsible for most of the recent acquisitions, made through Robert Sistrunk, who, I believe John said, was associated with Robert Ellsworth and Alice Boney. Sue Valenstein of the Met was their advisor. John exhibited some of my jade in the museum, and when Sherman Lee was a guest of honor, did me the favor of having him vet some of my collection. John also arranged an introduction for me to first meet Robert Ellsworth at his museum like dwelling on 5th Ave., near the Met. It was from there on one of my visits to get him to vet some jades I’d newly acquired, that he spontaneously phoned them? and recommended my pieces for them to auction.

It may have been on my first visit with Robert Ellsworth that he told me he’d helped James Watt get a position at the Boston Museum, and I shortly thereafter paid a visit to James in Boston.  When I returned to New Orleans from that visit, I met with John Bullard in regard to his and my interest in having an exhibition of my jade at the NOMA. I recommended that he have James come down from Boston and evaluate the collection as a whole, as well as choose pieces for the exhibition. Subsequently, James agreed to come, and, according to John Bullard, he gave a very good review of my jades. This was in ’85 – ’86, and the time of a very extreme down turn in the economy. Unfortunately due to personal issues at the time the plans for the exhibition never came to pass, as I decided to join John Seto’s sister, Lillian, at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing – once again to follow my passion to learn all I could  about jade.

The six months I spent in China, a year before Tiannamen, were incredibly memorable, almost surrealistic. John Bullard had allowed me to use the “Research Associate” as a credential to help gain entrance to the CAFA, but it was the cash tuition fee that allowed me to stay and have a tutorial under Prof. Tang Shi, who, ultimately helped me get a meeting at the Gugong with Yang Boda to give his opinion on the photographs of the jades in my collection. Prof. Tang also took me and graduate students from Germany, Japan, and India on a Silk Road trip that included Xian, Dunhuang, and culminated in Kashgar. And from Kashgar, I made the visit of my dreams to the banks of the jade rivers of Hotien and Yarkand, where I believe I was the first westerner to collect jade pebbles from the villagers since, at least, before the Communist Revolution. I still have the pebbles.